Restless Progress, New Wozzle

Post by: Grant Rodiek

This post is a continuation of my Windmills post. At the end, you’ll find a quick high level run down of the new features. But, regarding Windmills. It turns out I have more to say and discuss on the topic and it’s really important to me.

I have learned so much making Wozzle. It’s been an absolute avalanche of learning and I’m so glad the weird idea came to me in the first place. Most importantly is that I’ve found a fantastic designer partner in Joshua Buergel. The constant back and forth of ideas, counters, inspirations, and polish is just so useful. I’m having a hard time thinking about solo-design now. More on our future adventures, oh…later this year.

One thing I realized in developing Wozzle is that game design is somewhat like trauma, in that you must isolate the biggest problems, fix them, and move to the next. But unlike trauma, which is usually resolved in hours, game design is a total marathon. The mind is unable to fully process everything at once. Something that seems fine one day may turn out to be completely unacceptable in the new light of another day. Opportunities may not emerge for weeks, months, or years. You really need to know everything about the game to truly take it where it needs to go.

Perhaps the better comparison is not to the trauma surgeon, but to the general practice doctor you see your entire life? Yes, he’ll help you with your heart problem and your knees after the accident. But, he’s also there to help you get your blood pressure down, reduce stress, and shave a few pounds.

Yes, I like that more.

Game development is months or years of care and more than ever I’ve learned that you can’t truly know your game until you’ve played it, pounded it, and loved it for a really long time. There are just aspects of the story that can be unraveled until you truly know the guts.

Now, since my initial release of Farmageddon on The Game Crafter I’ve known games need more time to bake. I took that lesson devoutly to heart. Battle for York turned 3 years old last month. Sol Rising is over a year old. And Livestocked and Loaded, a “mere” expansion, had about a year of development (or more?) before it hit the factory.

I always felt that Wozzle would be a quicker game. Not an easier one, but a quicker one. I thought this for a few reasons:

  • The game plays quickly. Shorter games are easier to test.
  • The game plays well with gamers and non-gamers alike. My first 15 tests were with people who rarely play games. Typically, I can only test a game like York for example with a very specific audience.
  • The game is built upon the core of Texas Hold ‘Em. This meant we had a really strong foundation. A winning, beloved foundation.
  • We knew, generally, what we wanted to do with the game. There was a very clear goal at the outset.

The thing is, every few weeks we would hit a solid spot. We’d feel good. Then we’d get restless, or ambitious. Really, it alternated. We’re constantly throwing away cards that just aren’t good enough. Cards that are too verbose. Cards that are too complex for the amount of fun they provide. Cards that lead to less interesting or frustrating play. Inevitably, we come up with something new. Something clever. Why? Because we’ve played the game so much we know what it needs.

We had lingering concerns about poker comparisons. Lingering issues of just expecting people to know such things. Then, we examined how other publishers handled the problem. We looked to Gamewright, Z-Man, Iello. We asked how other designers resolved the issues we had. The result is a presentation breakthrough that immediately opened our eyes to an incredibly cool new mechanic that fits so naturally with the game, adds depth without undue complexity, and preserves the heart of the game. We knew how we could experiment and we were able to do so fruitfully. Early in a design you’ll make wide, swinging changes that miss the mark or worsen things. But here? We knew how to isolate it and tackle it.

I can blab forever, but here’s the important thing: we have a new release of Wozzle and we’d love you to test it. This is the one to test. We’re closing in. If you have an existing Spell set, in most cases, we’ve just optimized the wording. You may find a small number of new Spells and some old friends out the door.

Let me walk you through the changes.

  • We cut a page of rules. Going from 5 pages to 4 pages is HUGE. It means we cut a page of unnecessary and over complicated junk.
  • There are now 4 unique suits of Froggles, Goblins, Ghosts, and Arcana. They each number from 1-12, for 48 cards total. We did this to eliminate the confusion of Jack/Queen/King/Ace, step away from a direct poker vibe, and make it more of a card game. Also, 1-12 is just more intuitive..
  • The Arcana suit is special, in that the cards are both a rank and suit, but they also have a power. As an new action option, you may use the Arcana card as indicated by its text. This action does not cost mana and keeps you in the round. This mechanic is inspired by Tarot and adds a new devilish mix of private and public possibilities. It adds a new layer to the game. If you don’t like it, or find it too complex for your first time, simply ignore the text!
  • The Arcana suit is a preview of things to come. We are now designing 2 additional Arcana suits, also 1-12, that will each have a new mechanical twist. Players can swap out Arcana suits for different experiences, or swap them with non-Arcana suits for ridiculous game. Not recommended for new players!
  • We’ve polished the list of hands to create a more intuitive and natural set. We also feel this gives us the right flow of probability. We feel comfortable with this based on our own tests, gut checks, but also a fairly cool simulator that Joshua coded. However, we need your help here.
  • Since our last PNP push, there have been at least 5 new editing passes on the cards and Rules text.
  • We’ve modified the amount of Mana players begin the game with to improve the economy.
  • We’ve continued to balance the base cost of Spells.
  • We’ve added a Wozzle Junior variant that plays with 2-6 and is intended for novices and a younger audience.
  • We’ve continued to revise and improve our terminology. If you’ve played a previous version, pay attention! We’re sorry that construction is happening.

We would really appreciate your help in testing and promoting this version so that we can figure out where to take it. Basically, help us chart the future of Wozzle so that we can all see a real, professional version one day.

Thanks, and don’t hesitate to ask any questions in the comments!

An Interview for Flick Wars

Andrew Tullsen is a great guy whom I finally met in person during GenCon 2013. There, I played an earlier prototype of Flick Wars with 5 other friends. It was a blast! When the project went up on Kickstarter I knew I had to interview him. I’m interested in making a dexterity game and I wanted to learn from his experience.

My comments are preceded by HG, with Andrew’s preceded by AT. 

HG: Andrew – you’re a game designer, publisher, entrepreneur. Introduce yourself so we know you a little better.

AT: You can add to that list “Christian, Student, Ballroom Dancer and Ultimate Frisbee Player.” My various other pursuits besides board games keep me as busy as can be. I currently run Print & Play Productions which is a prototype service for designers to get quality prototypes printed.

HG: Your service is fantastic and I’m quick to promote it. For those curious, you quickly mailed me some really nice cardboard tokens for Wozzle and you made me a few beautiful copies of York, which I used to pitch at GenCon.

To the matter at hand. What is Flick Wars?

AT: Flick Wars is my own game (okay, fine, I’m the co-designer). It’s a combat dexterity game where you control a faction of different units. You flick them around the board as you try to destroy your opponent. It’s very fast to learn and play, yet has more tactical depth than most dexterity games of its game length.

HG: Where did you get the idea for Flick Wars? What were your inspirations?

AT: The other designer, Shaun Austin, came up with the original idea. I took the idea and basically did all the design work after the initial prototype. I fell in love with the dexterity combat idea and expanded it to a more polished state and added a bit more flavor to the game.

HG: Do you have any favorite dexterity games? Mine is easily Ascending Empires. I love the mix of serious strategy and ridiculous flicks.

AT: I love Pitchcar. I was a part of an epic tournament at BGG CON last year and I came in first. The final track was spread over 2 tables, was 3 levels high, and it took us a few hours to do just 2 laps. My final winning shot went over a jump, 3 curves and past the current leader’s car to win the game.

HG: Dexterity is a difficult genre. How do you feel Flick Wars stands out?

AT: All the dexterity games I had played either were “abstract” dexterity (Pitchcar, Crokinole, etc.) or the dexterity aspect didn’t feel right in the game (Ascending Empires, Catacombs). That second statement is a little strange, so let me explain.

I do love Ascending Empires. I have a custom wood board that removes all the weird jumps you get from the gaps. But the rest of the game is this strict technology tree game, and then you have these tiny ships which fall over and roll around. And the range rulers are so small! I mean, I’m good at dexterity, but there’s a reason everyone loves the purple technologies where you get points for ramming or being rammed.

Anyways, I wanted a combat game where the entire game WAS dexterity, but it also had the tactical/strategy elements.

HG: Who would love Flick Wars? Who is it aimed at?

AT: People who love finger-flicky games but want something more. People who like FUN.

I have played it with teens and adults, males and females. Nearly every game we end up standing around the table, groaning and cheering at each flick. There’s a basic set of cards that allow people to jump right in. I had one gal who professes to not like playing longer games, sit down, learn and play the game. But I want something more for me, so there’s the advanced cards that allow you to pick your own set of units before each battle. So I guess it caters to both light gamers and strategy gamers.

It isn’t supposed to be taken too seriously though, so if all you play are 3 hour, unforgiving euros, Flick Wars may not be for you.

HG: The experience you describe matches mine with the game. Our game at GenCon in particular was just a hoot. Lots of trash talk, tension, and joking. Really fun.

What were some of the key development challenges you faced developing Flick Wars?

AT: Balancing the freaking factions! Or just plain balancing the units. I would make one rule change and then I would need to fix some units, which would break other units, etc. Since Shaun was in another country, we never got to sit down together and play the game. So I would be updating files on my end, and it was hard for us to always be on the same page. I will say, Dropbox for the win though. We are still using that to sync our files up.

HG: I’ve wanted to make a dexterity game for a while but haven’t found my idea yet. What advice would you give to someone pursuing a dexterity design?

AT: Don’t skimp on component quality. Most games can live with thinner cards or smaller tokens or what have you, but a good dexterity game lives by its components.

Try a design exercise. Take a game you like and come up with a dexterity game based on it. Sort of like converting a game to a card game or a dice game (both of which seem to be all the rage now), but convert it to a dexterity game. You know, say, Agricola Stacking. Where you need to stack the different pieces on top of each other, but you have certain cards showing you which combos (which pieces are touching) give you more points.

HG: That’s actually really clever. I have just the design that this might work for. Hmm…

Why did you choose science fiction? You seem to have a fondness for this theme. Care to elaborate why?

AT: So much space to do anything you want! I love the epicness and grittiness of sci-fi, where you can have huge space battles or little skirmishes, all with hi-tech equipment that of course looks really cool.

Theme to me is big in games. I need to really feel immersed in the theme of a game to really get drawn in. As a computer programmer and geek, Sci-Fi holds just enough math and science to be fascinating to me.

HG: Thanks Andrew, good luck!

Flick Wars is currently being funded via Kickstarter. Give it a look! I want to thank Andrew for taking the time to let me interview him. 

Pullin’ an Interview with Dodd

Chevee Dodd is a good friend and a designer I’ve known for about 3 years now. He’s someone I talk to almost daily and share most of my design thoughts with. He’s a clever, hardworking guy and I was excited when he finally decided to, eh hem, pull, the trigger on this project. Read the interview below, but don’t forget to check out his Kickstarter page.

My comments are labeled HG. Chevee’s are labeled CD.

HG: Introduce yourself, for the 8 people who come to my site and somehow don’t yet know about your charming persona. Who is Chevee Dodd? And for the kids at home, how do you pronounce your name?

CD: Hold up. 8 people? Do you really think it’s that high? Man. I need to spend more time in your comments section!

I am a 35 year old father of two little girls, from a small town, you’ve never heard of, in beautiful West Virginia. I’m an ex-Marine, ex-parts department manager, ex-mechanic, IT professional for the WV State Board of Education. I design games for fun but also enjoy motorcycling, woodworking, video games, and fishing. On a first date I enjoy long walks on the bea….. wait…

Oh, and it’s pronounced Chevy, like the car.

HG: Before we cover Pull!, let’s go over your resume. Tell us some of your other, favorite games you’ve designed. Personally, I’m a big fan of Scallywags (published by Gamewright) and Princess Rainbow Unicorns.

CD: Scallywags seems to be a popular design of mine, probably because it’s the only one that’s ever been mass-produced. I don’t really like it all that much and hope to one day revisit the design and clean it up a bit. Princess Fairy Rainbow Unicorn dice is certainly a design that I’m proud of. It began as a dice game for my two little girls but it has grown it’s own little cult following. A version of the game, Leathernecks ‘43 is available through The Game Crafter, but most people seem to want the princess version for some reason. Like, grown men. Who knows, maybe it’ll be next on my list?

I’ve been actively designing games since 1997. I really didn’t start to get serious about publication until a few years ago and Scallywags is a direct result of that effort. I’m particularly fond of a dice and card design, Hedeby, that I worked on for most of last year. It’s currently being considered by Mayfair and I would simply be elated if they picked it up. Mayfair has been my dream publisher since I started this adventure.

HG: Give us the rundown of Pull! What is it, why do you love it, why should we care?

CD: PULL! is a non-traditional partnership card game based on traditional partnership card games. It takes heavy inspiration from classic trick-taking games such as spades, whist, and euchre, but I hesitate to call it a trick-taking game. That terminology brings with it some expectations that just don’t fit the game. There is no “trump” per-se, there is no “lead”, following suit isn’t always necessary, and there are some oddities in the scoring. While it’s true that each person plays a card and the person who plays the highest value card will win, that’s approximately where the similarities end.

In PULL!, we are shooting at clay targets. Players are dealt a hand of cards and two targets are revealed. Targets are worth a number of points. Each player, in turn will play one card until all players have played a single card on each target. The highest card played on each target will win that target’s points for their team. If a team scores both targets in a round, that is called a Double and may be worth bonus points. The targets have two values on them, you score one value if you took it as a single and the other value if you took it as part of a double. Two more targets are revealed and the hand continues in this fashion until all players have played their 10 cards. Points are recorded and a new hand is dealt.

HG: It’s probably easiest if people just watch this 5 minute video you made.

CD: That’s certainly not a bad plan! Not only is it linked on my page, and the Kickstarter page, but I’ve included a shortened link and a QR code in the rule book to make the job easier for new players to find.

HG: How did Pull! come about? Your games always have an amusing origin story, like how Paper Route was the result of an off-handed Tweet from Cyrus Kirby.

CD: This one is no different. I already mentioned that I worked on Hedeby for most of last year. That was almost the only thing I worked on all year. It was a dark time for me and I didn’t cope with it well. Sometime last fall, I got fed up with it. I wanted to make a game that was easy to print and play and cheap enough to produce through print on demand. The only problem was, I had no ideas. So, I turned to Twitter. I asked for people to send me theme ideas and I’d pick one to run with. I received dozens of responses but one kept sticking with me: Clay Pigeon Shooting w/ Trick Taking. I had a working prototype a few hours later and I’ve been actively designing it since.

HG: How many clay pigeons have you killed in your life?

CD: Approximately zero. To tell the truth, I’ve never actually been trap shooting. It’s apparently popular at the range I shoot at as there is always orange fragments covering the berms. So, I often shoot those fragments with my rifles. Does that count?

HG: I’ll allow it. Why did Pull! become the first game you self-publish in a big way? You’ve been satisfied with Print-on-Demand publication previously, or pitching to AAA publishers.

CD: PULL! sits squarely between the two outlets. It is a game that doesn’t sit well with AAA publishers because of the trick-taking background but it has a larger audience than what I can reasonably approach with a strictly print on demand strategy. Most of my print on demand games are similarly difficult for AAA publishers but are also difficult to self-produce because of component cost. This is the first game I’ve done in a while that I feel confident I could bring to market while still maintaining a relatively normal life.

PULL! has also been a community effort from day one. The inspiration, the rules, the graphics.  I’ve leaned on the community heavily to make it what it is today. It’s a perfect candidate for crowd funding because the crowd has already made the game. Going through this process myself will allow me to give back to the community through the lessons I’m learning and I like giving.

HG: What were some of the challenges you’ve encountered in the process up to pushing the “go” button on Kickstarter?

CD: Aside from the usual game design challenges, the Kickstarter process itself is a little awkward. For instance, I knew that I would have to set up an Amazon Business account to accept payment, but what I didn’t know was that the type of banking account I had made that process very different. When I registered my LLC, I set up a business checking account. Because this was a business account and not a personal account, Amazon required me to send them a bank statement that contained the business name and address as well as the bank account information. I couldn’t simply self-authorize as I would have had I used a personal account. Oh, and the only way they would accept this information is by fax. Yeah. A fax. I had to find a fax machine. I hope to write quite a few articles about the Kickstarter process after all is said and done.

HG: The first and last time I used a fax machine in my life was to buy a home. Strange how those things refuse to die in an age of scanning.

CD: Yep. I’m an IT guy. This process actually baffled me. Five years ago, I could have scanned it and then plugged my computer into a phone line and sent it via my PC, but none of my laptops even have internal modems. So, not only was it difficult to find an actual fax machine, it was practically impossible for me to use the technological replacement because phone lines are a thing of the past. I’m sure I could have found a mobile app or an online tool for this, but in the end, I found an actual fax machine and sent it.

HG: What are some of your favorite games? How, if at all, did they inform your development of Pull?

CD: Some of my all-time favorites are Acquire, Settlers of Catan, DC Deckbuilder, and Tichu. I wouldn’t say that any of them had a direct influence on the mechanics of PULL!

Tichu, being the only trick-taking game of the bunch, was a sort of point of reference for me. My group plays it many times each week and when I started looking at PULL! objectively to find some ways to inject fun into the game, I paid more attention to the mood during our weekly Tichu sessions. I analyzed why some moments were fun and others were dull and I tried to capture some of that fun in PULL!

HG: Tell me about those moments. Walk us through them.

CD: I take trick taking games very seriously. Because of this, I enjoy them often for different reasons. I enjoy figuring out what each person’s cards. I enjoy calculating the possibility of strong plays that can break the other player’s strategies and swing the hand in my favor. I also enjoy how the deal has a strong effect on the game, but through perfect (or near-perfect) play, the stronger player should win through a series of hands. All this means that I, personally, enjoy the duller sides of the games.

I was prompted by Matt Worden to find the fun parts of PULL! and there weren’t many. There was very little ability for the player to mess up their opponents plans. Watching my group play Tichu, I realized that those big moments when a player wrecks a Tichu is the most rewarding part. I needed to introduce some of those big moments into PULL! but it is difficult without a bidding process. Most popular trick taking games require a player to bid, or have a declaration mechanism, such as nil in spades or Tichu in Tichu. When one player declares their hand is strong, breaking that players hand is often some of the most fun in trick taking games. PULL! has neither bidding nor hand declaration mechanics. Introducing those sorts of moments needed to be on a round-by-round basis and they needed to be matter.

When I introduced the hidden second card, those moments were brought into the game. The change was suggested by Eric Handler, the person responsible for the game’s inspiration, and he suggested it after I had already sent review copies out! It’s such an important change for the game, however, that I could not ignore it. I immediately emailed the reviewers and told them I was changing the game. Nothing like developing mere weeks from the Kickstarter launch!

HG: What are some of the “big moments” in Pull’s development? If it were a novel, we’d call them plot twists. What were the big shifts you didn’t expect, or that were pleasantly surprising?

CD: I’ve been a fan of trick taking games my entire life. Some of my fondest memories revolve around playing spades and whist. When I was asked to design a trick taking game, I tried really hard to focus on those classics and force through some sort of derivative instead of a game of it’s own. What this meant was that the entire deck was dealt out and I minimized randomness as much as possible. I wanted players to be able to calculate the strength of their hand but I didn’t reward that at all. I totally missed it. The game was almost 100% driven by the strength of the deal with little to no ability for the players to make creative plays that change the outcome of the hand.

When I finally listened to the feedback I was receiving, the majority of suggestions revolved around introducing more randomness. When I finally started loosening up the design it immediately became 100% better. Sometimes I am my largest obstacle.

HG: In general, what are your thoughts on randomness in game? Without writing a full blog post, give us a quick rundown about how you like your randomness and where Pull! lies on that spectrum.

CD: I like a healthy dose of randomness but not so much that I feel powerless. Trying to put a figure on it, I’d say I like my games to be about 30-40% random. It gives me something to blame when I lose but also provides a great challenge. A better player should win in a random game through normalization over many rounds. That challenge is compelling for me and it’s part of the reason that random games are so fun.

Look at the massive player base that has built up around Magic: the Gathering. That game encompasses the 30-40% randomness that keeps people coming back. When you lose, you didn’t lose the game, you got screwed by your deck. When you win, however, it’s because of your superior skill at deckbuilding and play.

PULL! falls squarely in that window. The luck of the deal is certainly a big factor as it is with most trick taking games. Skilled players should win over a series of hands, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way. At the same time, there is enough strategy and tactical thinking to keep it interesting. I’d like to think that I got the balance right.

HG: Anything else you’d like to add?

CD: I love you.

HG: I know.

I want to thank Chevee for the interview. Give PULL! a look on Kickstarter. $16 gets you the game. 

Simple, Clean, and Fast

Post by: Grant Rodiek

A common sentiment I read over and over is for designers to “make ugly prototypes!” This seems to be a rallying cry and I’d like to quietly (mostly due to my low readership) stand up and offer a counterpoint. I realize I’m splitting hairs, which is petty, but it’s an important distinction. I don’t think you should make ugly prototypes for a second longer than necessary. Instead, I think this should be our rallying cry as designers:

Make your prototypes aesthetically functional, simple, and easy to iterate upon. Do not make ugly prototypes.

There’s a flow to this, though, and ugly does have its place; the starting point. Here are the general steps in your prototype’s visual life.

  1. Create a quick and dirty prototype. Suggested format: blank index cards and pencil writing. You need these when you’re sure of nothing, when the game is so bad you’ll be erasing stuff mid-test to fix it.
  2. Quick and less-dirty prototype. Throw away the smudged marked cards from your last few tests. Use nicer hand writing and give it a little more love.
  3. Functional and Simple prototype. It’s time to give your testers something a little bit better. Printed, plain white cards with easy to read numbers and simple iconography. I think this is where you should spend the majority of your development.
  4. High-End Prototype. I let myself do these if I really love the game or I have a moment of weakness, or I’m going to GenCon to pitch. I’ve done this for YorkFarmageddon, and a couple of prototypes I shouldn’t have. Many people go to far too quickly to print out your prototype. DON’T. You’ll be rendering them useless far too quickly if you leave step 3 too soon.

Perhaps the distinction between number 3 and number 4 is why people stress the “keep it ugly!” so much. But, for the sake of this post, I think you should spend most of your time in step 3 and I don’t think it should be ugly.

I can only speak from my own experience, and what I say is merely my opinion. Remember, everyone’s got one. But, the moment in development to begin taking your presentation more seriously comes more quickly than people think. It’s very easy to say the publisher will handle the art, the publisher will handle the graphic design, the publisher will handle the rules. But, I’d argue thinking about the full experience of your design will not only enrich your prototype, but better your chances of finding that publisher.

Constantly seek to broaden your designer skill set! You’ll be amazed at how it improves the rest of your abilities. It may seem unrelated, but all of this helps you craft better experiences and games. Stop saying “make it ugly!” and think about how you can make sharper games from head to toe.


I’m only able to test with chicken scratch on index cards for so long before I exhaust my testers’ patience and hit my own quality bar. For one, a lot of time is wasted reading my handwriting and I’ve found people tend to give a game with handwriting a less-than-fair shake when evaluating it. People tend to treat the game like a joke, and to a degree, it is.

Playtesting is a gift and a favor. Every time. Remember that! Do your best to remove all notions that what your testers are doing is not worth their time.


You don’t need to spend weeks perfecting your layout. You don’t need to be an artist. You can use the Drawing program on Google Drive, free, to quickly create something. This lets you experiment with space and card usability. Use simple, clear typefaces, and get a feel for how much room you have. You can also use Inkscape. Or GIMP. Both are free! I just found another called Pixlr using a Google search.

If you’re worried about your tuning values, and you should be, leave those spaces blank and write them in with a pencil. This saves paper, time cutting, and allows you to quickly try new things while still presenting something that isn’t distracting.


You can use and The Noun Project to quickly obtain clean iconography to test your system. I’ve tried hand-drawn icons and it’s a waste of everyone’s time.


When you’re testing your prototype, the most important thing is to get feedback on the game and the actual experience. The closest you can reasonably get to a quality prototype, the better the feedback. Not everyone has vision or the ability to imagine something better. Sometimes they need a leg up. This isn’t their fault, but it’s an opportunity for us as designers to create something simple, functional, and easy to use.

Some good steady rules for building quick prototypes:

  • Add a stroke/border to your cards to make them easy to cut.
  • Get a paper cutter and some sleeves. You can buy a bunch cheaply on Amazon.
  • Use a simple typeface that’s easy to read.
  • Use 12 or 14 point font size. Challenge yourself to create text as large as possible. Like having a 140 limit restriction in Twitter, you’ll find it forces you to get creative and razor sharp with your text.
  • Remember to leave space for illustrations. In most cases, people will want art there.
  • If you think colors and icons will be a part of the game, begin testing with them as soon as possible. Get some colored pencils for the dirty phase, but upgrade to some free, open-sourced icons quickly.
  • Remember how people hold and fan a hand of cards. Put important info in the top left corner, not the top right corner.
  • Use white backgrounds to save on ink.
  • Leave room to write in number variables by hand. Use an eraser to update on the fly.
  • Take advantage of blank labels. You can type on them, print them, then label them on an existing card when you need to make more significant text changes. You should see the scrapbook that were my Farmageddon cards.
  • A good rule, for me, is to try to mimic the Google home page. It’s not flashy, fun, or sexy. But, I can easily identify things and go about my day.

Go forth, broaden your skillset, and make your prototypes aesthetically functional, simple, and easy to iterate upon. Happy designing.


Post by: Grant Rodiek

I don’t sit idly well. It drives my girlfriend positively batty and I’m sure my boss will soon fill my yearly review with comments to this regard. I stay busy, often for good, sometimes for ill.

I’m not letting myself touch Wozzle, at least not the version people are testing for us. It’s a good build, it’s testing very well, and it’s important to us that people download it with confidence knowing we won’t just yank it out from under them every 30 seconds with an update. That’s fine with a digital game, but when people take the time to print, cut, and sleeve, we owe them a steady build.

But. The mind wanders. We really want Wozzle to be just awesome. We’ve chased after a few rabbits already. Some entirely fruitless, or mostly fruitless with one tiny benefit. This weekend has revealed yet another rabbit hole.

Naturally, we dove in head first.

Let’s talk about why I chase them.

Note: Forgive the mix of singular (I, me) and plural (us, we) in this document. I’m semi-writing from my own perspective and that of me and my design partner, Joshua Buergel.

What would your favorite publisher do? Or, what would a great publisher do? I had a mental revelation yesterday. When it hit me, it made so much sense that it astounded me it hadn’t guided my thinking prior to this. As I thought on it further, I realized it had influenced me in the past, but not to the same degree. The thought was simply, in regards to Wozzle, “How would Gamewright handle this?”

I think Gamewright is a pretty incredible publisher of games and I own a few of their products. My most recent addition from them, Cube Quest, has already been enjoyed 16 times in the 2 weeks that I’ve owned it. Their games are simple, playful, beautiful, and just fun to own.

I’ve done this with other games in the past. I designed Sol Rising to be something Colby Dauch and Jerry Hawthorne of Plaid Hat Games would enjoy. I have another in-progress prototype that is meant squarely for Portal Games. But, in those cases it was more a high level “who could I pitch this to?” type question.

With Wozzle, it led us to nitpick our rules. Gamewright only publishes a few games a year. They are aimed at a very wide market of parents, families, and children, which means they need to be colorful, clean, easy to learn, and well-refined.

When viewing Wozzle through the same lens, we started asking quite a few questions. Which of these rules add more complexity than they add fun? Which of these rules don’t suit our target audience? Where can we condense and focus the fun?

An example of something we skimped out is the kicker. This is the concept in poker where you have two people tied with, say, a two pair. Neither of them has a higher pair, so you need a kicker. This could be the card in the Community, which means they split the pot, OR a card from somebody’s hand. The problem is, this is a fairly unlikely occurrence. Furthermore, it’s a really complicated thing to explain. Is it so bad in this rare occasion people just split the pot?

No, we determined. The ratio of fun to complexity wasn’t where it needed to be.

In some cases, this process involves us doing a lot of extra work to go from an 85 to an 87 on a quiz, to use an American school system metaphor, but it is what a big, real publisher would do. Therefore, shouldn’t we hold ourselves to that same standard? Another change is that I re-made all 30 cards to not change the mechanic, but the presentation. Why? We think it’ll be more accessible. It was a pain, but it’s what a AAA publisher would do.

In the software world, we often branch our builds. This is often for the purpose of a demo at a convention like E3 or Gamescom. We branch, isolate, and polish a build for the show. Meanwhile, the majority of the team continues to work on the actual, shipping software.

Another, more recent phenomenon is the notion of A/B testing. Pioneered (I think) by free to play game developers, different tuning variables, art, UI layout, or even mechanics will be shown between different sample groups, called cohorts. The purpose is to find out which solution works the best and propagate it to every build.

We’ve branched Wozzle before with minor changes and now we have not one, not two, but three rules documents that we’re testing and pondering. Why? For the same reason our nefarious government overlords have R&D. We want to see if we can learn anything from our branched skunk works projects that can make the main line better. There’s a pretty high chance that these branches will result in fruitless dead ends. But, by chasing these windmills we’re able to determine that the mainline is in fact the superior solution OR, just maybe, find something even better.

I realize all of this sounds like the indecisive spinning of a mad man. But, we’re not! If anything, I think this is some of the most sophisticated, mature development I’ve ever put into a personal project. I’ve personally taken inspiration from other sources around me lately.

At work, we had a few key features “locked down.” We thought they were done. Then, someone asked if they should really be locked down. We all grumbled, sighed, and then thought about it. Like the multiple stages of grief, we soon found ourselves at acceptance. No, it wasn’t as good as it could be. Yes, it can be better. The result? We made it better.

In another case, I have a beloved elder project that I thought was pretty good. As it turns out, the foundation was pretty good. The core was good. But the details? Not incredible and not as good as they could be. I’ve had all of my beliefs and assertions challenged and it has led to a great leap forward.

There’s acceptance of the known and the embrace of potential. Potential, though, like ideas, is everywhere and sometimes just hot air.

Calculated, thoughtful questioning may be the best thing for your design. If you make an B game, is that good enough? Can you make it a B+? Then an A-? The line for when to stop and when enough is enough is really fuzzy. I clearly haven’t found it, or I simply haven’t been able to identify it.

Who then, can show us the line?

Our players and loyal testers are potentially the greatest line identifiers. With each rabbit hole we’ve engaged a mixture of our most dedicated testers, team members, and peers. The response hasn’t been universal yet and I never expect it will be.

Twice, today, we had our survey return with an answer of “No! Don’t do that!” In a sense, it’s an incredible compliment. What the hell are you doing? Don’t touch it. I like what you’ve done. It’s comforting to know both that people like what we already have enough to yell at us AND that we’re humble enough to return from the depths of our rabbit hole, hats in hands, with nothing but shrugs and mud speckled grins.

The lesson I aim to share is this: when you think your rules are done, take another pass. When you think you have the best set of cards, identify your 3 weakest ones and try to replace them. If your mind conjures an alternate mechanic, branch and test. At least discuss it.

When you walk past the cute girl at the park, turn around. Introduce yourself. She may be involved with someone, or she may become the love of your life. That’s a bit hyperbolic, I agree. But, look around. Yeah, that’s right. I chose that name for a reason.

Encounters with Genius

Post by: Grant Rodiek

Lately I have been truly blessed to encounter a few new games that have just blown my mind. Each of them has contributed something to my enjoyment of games, but also, my thoughts as a designer.

It’s not uncommon if you play games frequently to come across great ideas. But, to just be assaulted with an avalanche of brilliance? Truly special. I wanted to quickly highlight some of these brilliant games. Perhaps you can share yours?

Twilight Struggle

This is the number one game on Board Game Geek. I bought this years ago based on a review on Dice Hate Me. I’ve longed to play it and have read the rules probably 6 times. Well, last week I finally had the chance to play it not once, but twice.

My word.

After the first game my friend and I both looked at each other and said “Yep, number 1.” Then we immediately played again. After that, and for the following week, we constantly discussed ideas on how to play differently and just, wow.

Order of cards in decks both abstracts the historical periods but allows the game to go from focused to broad as it plays out. First you focus on Europe, then Asia, then the Middle East and Latin America. Africa is always a good place to distract your opponent. If follows the timeline in a way that respects history and narrows the game at the outset to prevent you from being overwhelmed.

Scoring drives play dynamically. Players are dealt Scoring cards, which MUST be played the Turn they are dealt (a Turn in Twilight Struggle is more like a Round in other games). If you are dealt the scoring card for Europe, you’re going to spend your turn trying to maximize your points there. However, as scoring affects both players, you also need to hinder your opponent. But, how do you improve your standing in the region without completely alerting your intentions?

You must play cards that help your opponent. This is another way the game takes advantage of history without forcing you down a narrow chute. Every card has two basic elements: a number in the top left (typically 1-4) and an Event, with text. The event belongs to either the Soviets, the Americans, or both. You can play cards in one of two ways:

  1. Play it for its Number, the Operational Value. This lets you do things like add influence to the board or conduct Coups.
  2. Play it for its Event. If the Event is yours, you can instead do what the text says. These are often very powerful, or they will unlock additional options.

Here’s the rub. You never want to play a card for its Event if its your opponent’s Event. It’s just bad. But, if you play a card for its Operation Value and its Event belongs to your opponent? Guess what? It happens. This means you play the card for its Operation Value of 4 — great card! But, revolutions will take place in the Middle East that in no way help you. You’re only able to hold onto one card every Turn (again, Turns are Rounds), and typically you can only chuck one card to the Space Race. This means you must play cards that will help your opponent. Which is also true for your opponent. The key is managing it on your terms. Brilliant.

Both players draw from a single deck. However, as I mentioned above, cards “belong” to one player typically. In a sense, this gives you an asymmetric game, but unlike other asymmetric games, you don’t need to learn new rules, or work with a narrow set of abilities. In fact, because both of you will always have a large hand of cards that pertain to both factions, it’s very easy for both players to learn all the cards in just a few games (though learning them to be GOOD is an entirely different matter).

To put this in perspective, in a single game of Summoner Wars, there are about 60 cards, split in 2, that pertain to only a single faction. That’s way more difficult to learn how it all plays. Not only do you need to learn yours in isolation, but you need to learn your opponent’s.

Overall, Twilight Struggle feels like a sandbox with the right boundaries that let you play a massive “what-if” in the Cold War time and time again. My highest recommendation.

Cockroach Poker

A friend recently bought Cockroach Poker and it has become our lunch game du jour. With no hyperbole, I will look you in the eye and say that this is the best bluffing game I’ve played. The game is elegant, quick, plays with a large number of players, but most importantly? People never stop laughing. It’s just a hoot to play.


The game features 8 each of 8 types of cards. The cards have a creature on it (spider, rat, cockroach, fly). That’s it. You lose if you have 4 of a single creature in front of you, or you don’t have cards to play. It’s that simple.

The game has no turn structure, which was wildly eye opening for me. At the start of the game, one player passes a card to an opponent. The card is face down from the initiating player’s hand. “This is a roach,” the passing player says. The receiving player can say “I believe you,” or “I don’t believe you.” If the receiving player is correct, the giving player takes the card face up. If the receiving player is incorrect, they take the card face up.

Or, the receiving player can simply look at the card and pass it to someone else. The process then repeats until it ends with someone. No single player can be involved with a card more than once, so at some point it’ll end somewhere. There is this glorious, semi-cooperative habit of “alley ooping” the card from one player until you finally get it to the player you want to lose. The trick is, one player loses the game. Everyone else wins.

This means it’s quick to gang up on a player. However, that player has a lot of power to open up a second front, as they say, and stack the odds against someone else. Fortune’s can turn quickly in the game and a really good, and lucky player and outlast even the most overwhelming of onslaughts.

It’s so good.

Ultimately, the game has a million strategies, all revolving around its bluff mechanic and group dynamics. A game like Coup has quite a few little mechanics, which in a way narrows how you play. But Cockroach Poker is wide open and as a result players are constantly trying new ways to fool and outwit their friends. It’s just magnificent.

One Night Werewolf

Before I encountered One Night Werewolf, I must admit I’d grown wary of deduction games. The Resistance is fun, but it felt very formulaic, at least for me, after a while.

  1. Players go through the first two missions with almost zero information.
  2. Players shout at each other for 15 minutes with zero basis for doing so. “You’re the spy!” “No you’re the spy!”
  3. Sometimes people figure some things out. Often, people just shout and one side gets lucky.

This isn’t the case with One Night WerewolfThere are several characters with very simple abilities, like looking at other players’ roles, swapping roles, or having the ability to kill someone regardless of the vote. This is really important, because it means there is enough info to deduce and solve the puzzle. But! Don’t forget that people can and will still lie and bluff. And they are working against you. So many games like this are purely social. One Night Werewolf is half social, have logic puzzle, which means you might win the puzzle, but lose the vote.

That game is also absurdly quick, but no less epic. We played 6 games in a row over a one hour lunch the other day. After we learned the ropes in the first few games, the last few? Just incredible.

Combat Commander: Europe

Combat Commander blew my mind. This game is a wild-west sandbox of chaos, war, artillery landing all around you, and heroes emerging to save their beleaguered comrades.

The game is entirely card driven. If you don’t have the action on a card in your hand, you can’t take it. Some people prefer the ability to always move, or shoot, and that’s fine. In Combat Commander you need to make the best of what you have. This makes it mechanically simple (play the card for the thing), but HIGHLY varied.

But wait, there’s more!

Every card has two ways to play it: Order, or Action. Orders are things like Move, Fire, Rout, or Command Confusion, which is a hard that gums your hand. Or, they can be played for Actions at any time, even on your opponent’s turn. Actions often modify Orders, like throwing down suppressing fire with that Fire Order, or throwing out a Smoke Grenade to hide your sprint across the open.

When you attack, both players flip their top card and use the dice in the bottom left corner as their roll. This is important because it means instead of purely random dice, you can have a dice-like effect where the designer can set the overall average. For example, the German Army will probably be better than the Italian Army. Some of these dice rolls trigger events. Flip another card, because every card has an event on it.

Events might be sniper attacks, unexpected reinforcements, a fire in the forest (that WILL grow), artillery shell holes to use as cover, and more.

Over the course of a 1-3 hour game, the map evolves and your choices constantly change. It’s just incredible. The rule book includes this quote, which I think is perfect:

“The reason the American Army does so well in wartime, is that war is chaos, and the American Army practices it on a daily basis.” – from a post-war debriefing of a German General.

Have you played anything lately that was just incredible? What did it teach you? Why was it incredible? Share in the comments below!

Posted in Blog | Tagged brilliant, cockroach poker, combat commander, , history, one night werewolf, play it, theme, twilight struggle | 8 Replies

Wozzle Patch Notes

Post by: Grant Rodiek

We’ve been testing Wozzle furiously with anyone who will give us a half hour of their time. The game continues to test well, locally and with blind testers all over. In an effort to give people time to test and not feel assaulted with updates, we’ve tried to let the PNP sit and soak for a few weeks.

We’ve gathered some notes and have made a few changes. We’ve updated the PNP and I’ll go through the notes here.

Overall, if you already have a printed set of the game, you can probably keep playing it. At some point you’ll need to update your cards, but I don’t think you need to do that right now. The biggest change, which is cutting Antes and replacing it with Base Cost, is mostly a presentation change for accessibility. The overall game feels very similar. But, it does change every card.

Patch Notes

  • Added a frame to cards. It looks nicer and it makes it easier to cut them.
  • Removed Antes and Mana inflation to the economy. Now, a 4 player game has 40 Mana in it the entire game. No influx of Mana.
  • The removal of Mana inflation has naturally reduced the number of Mana tokens needed.
  • Cut Glutanas and replaced with Donation.
  • We’re experimenting with tightening the starting Mana for all players to 7 for two players, 9 for 3 players, and 10 for 4 players.
  • I can’t remember what we cut, but we replaced it with Purge. Some notes, I know.
  • Removed the 2 player limitation on Raise.
  • Made Raise cost 2 Mana onto Spells, not 3 Mana.
  • Added Base Cost to every card. More on this and the removal of Antes below.
  • General clarity and example improvements to rules. This is really key and we’ll never stop pushing to make these better.
  • Added Pauper’s Whim, a third Starter Spell
  • Players now start with 7 Mana instead of 6 in a 2 player game.

Antes and Base Cost

When you design a game, there’s typically a thing or two that work really well, mostly, but there’s one tiny lingering thing about them that you just don’t quite like. We really like how our spell activation mechanic works. Previously, this was pay 1 Mana to the Pot for every Mana on the Spell, then add 1 Mana to the Spell itself. This slowly ratcheted up the cost of the Spell by 1 every use.

The problem, primarily for first time players, is that although the mechanic is simple, it had this light layer of math and would confuse some people. They’d ask: “how many do I pay?” And someone would always put all their Mana on the spell instead of the Pot. But, people always got it after a round or two. Generally, people paying attention picked it up and didn’t have an issue.

We thought about solutions on how to represent it different. So many solutions. We received blind feedback on this from somebody we greatly respect, so we really pushed ourselves to fix it over the weekend. We left no stone un-turned. We experimented with an entirely new mechanic and 3 different ways to change how the info was presented.

We just didn’t like any of these new solutions. In many ways they just shifted the issue. In other ways, they worsened the issue. Still, we kept pushing. What we’ve rested on finally is a nice compromise that is just a tiny difference.

Previously, there were Antes on some spells.This had two purposes:

  1. Make some Spells cost a little bit more initially to make them a less obvious choice. It didn’t prevent people from using them, which is good because overall we want people to use lots of spells. But it made them think.
  2. Slightly grow the economy by introducing coins from the bank.

Now, all spells have a base cost of 1-3. The rule, is that the cost to activate the spell is its base cost (top right corner) plus any Mana on it. You put all Mana, except 1, into the Pot. The last one goes on the Spell to increase its cost for the next activation.

Example: Fissure has a base cost of 1. The first person to use it puts 1 Mana onto Fissure. The next person to use it must pay 2 (Base Cost + Mana). He puts 1 Mana on The Pot, one on Fissure. The third person must pay 3 (Base Cost + 2 Mana). He puts 2 on The Pot and 1 on the Spell.

This also keeps the economy stable, which we think helps with math and overall balance as you play. As a side effect, it removes about 40 tokens from the game, which will be great for game cost.

Overall, Josh and I continue to be very happy with the progress the game is making. The spells are not changing much at all anymore. We’d love to know which ones don’t work, but we haven’t heard mass confusion on text, problems with use of Spells. We feel like we’re working diligently on tiny issues now, not big issues. That’s a good place to be.

Thanks for testing and don’t hesitate to ask any questions.